JS Bach: Suites for Solo Cello (complete)

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WORKS: Suites for Solo Cello (complete)
PERFORMER: Antonio Meneses (cello)
While some of the 50-odd recordings of these suites test technique to destruction, and others suggest cellists striving to impose their own distinctive mark, Antonio Meneses is master of his instrument and defers modestly to Bach. The Prelude of No. 6, written for five-string cello, is more effortless in the stratospheric heights of his A string than many cellists favoured with the additional string a fifth higher. His rhythmic instinct is exemplary. He sustains a constant tempo between the paired minuets, bourrées and gavottes; the final gigue, where lesser cellists create a seven-in-a-bar ‘dance macabre’ as they strive to bow across first-beat chords, is rock steady. Even the languid sixth Allemande still conjures up slow-motion ghosts of courtly dancers, while lifted first beats light-footedly impel livelier dances. Meneses communicates the joy of the music rather than the challenge to the cellist. His straightforward, no-nonsense interpretation allows Bach to speak for himself. In the Prelude of No. 5, crisp up-beats convey the nervous spirit of its French-overture model but without fierce over-dotting, and the following fugue sustains the tempo. The Prelude of No. 3, boldly gestural, has no hint of pomposity. Meneses’s cello (and, presumably, his bow) belong to the 19th-century tradition. Yet he’s fully in tune with Baroque conventions – in interpreting Bach’s ornaments and adding a few discreet ones of his own – and he largely adheres to the (somewhat haphazard) bowing marks of Bach’s copyist, his wife Anna Magdalena. The sound is intimate, emphasising the contrast between ‘dry’ cello keys and those with ringing open strings, E flat/ C minor (Suite No. 4), for instance. Though I can’t forgive one missing repeat (Bach wrote it, so it should be played), this unassuming, ‘non-period’ recording finally topples Jaap ter Linden (Harmonia Mundi), my long-standing previous benchmark. George Pratt